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News Letter owner stronger despite turbulent year’s trading

The publisher of the News Letter yesterday said turbulent advertising markets were showing signs of stabilising as full-year losses narrowed.

Johnston Press said like-for-like advertising revenues fell 7.3% in the first nine weeks of the year, improving on a 26.5% plunge during 2009.

After one-off writedowns on newspaper titles and closed presses, the firm posted pre-tax losses of £113.8m — although this was healthier than the £429.3m reverse in 2008.

The group is laden with £422.1m in debts after a series of acquisitions, but managed to refinance its borrowings last year and has no immediate plans to raise further funds.

Chief executive John Fry said advertising was “more stable”, while circulation trends improved, and digital revenues |grew.

“The year ended with the group in a much stronger position than it began,” he said.

Johnston cracked down on costs during 2009, making savings of £49.3m through staff cuts, |closing two presses in Scotland and Ireland, and improving IT systems.

The group has shed 25% of its staff over the past two years and expects further cost reductions during 2010.